Service in the Age of Social Media: The Next Frontier for Gaming Companies
You’ve built an amazing game and brought it to market. Reviews are favorable, and player adoption is increasing. It would seem the heavy lifting is done. Rest easy, and watch the revenue pour in, right?
Nope. Not in today’s collaborative world where your target audience has increasing expectations of your business. Get anything wrong, inside the game or otherwise, and thanks to social media, bad news spreads like wildfire. This creates new competitive challenges for you that go beyond the quality of your product. Instead, they speak to a level of service and support, affecting brand perception, fan bases, and even the gaming experience itself.
Gaming companies need to support games with the kind of world-class service that raises customer acquisition rates, builds customer loyalty, enhances game quality and promotes new monetization opportunities. The challenge is doing just that without draining budgets.
Here are six tips for gaming companies looking to determine a service strategy that takes into account all of today’s unique challenges.
Tip 1: Put Structure around Your Service
As myriad new players with their own unique needs happily crowd into your game, game weaknesses, programming quirks, and simple experiential differences of opinion will begin to be uncovered.
Service requests and feedback will be varied and potentially overwhelming.
You need a strategy to deal with all that will happen or even may happen after your game goes live. Protect yourself — and enable even higher levels of business success — by putting structure around your service.
Begin by setting up strict response rules, processes, and automation that allow users, whenever possible, to resolve their own issues. Whether that is through access to an in-game knowledgebase or the ability to chat live with a customer service representative from within the game, you need to provide answers and service resolution at your players’ fingertips.
It’s what they expect, and keeping them satisfied will lead to longer play rates, and foster a sense of loyalty and evangelism that brings new gamers to your game. Plus, it will help you from being overwhelmed by noise and escalating costs.
In providing automated self-service, there are a few things that you can and definitively should consider.
First, establishing automated responses to inquiries for things like password resets will free up customer service representatives to focus on higher priority requests that cannot be automatically resolved.
You can also build out mass response communications for critical moments that can lead to lost customers if issues are left unaddressed or unresolved, like when your game goes down. This, in turn saves money.
Second, make sure you put in place a rich knowledgebase that provides a branded experience where players can self-serve. You’ll experience the additional cost benefit of smaller CSR teams, and halt the need to grow your CSR team as your game scales.
iWin’s customer care team did just that. When iWin switched from what they called a “glorified email solution” to implementing an end-to-end self-service-focused solution that included a knowledgebase and automated responses, iWin was able to improve ticket response times from one to two weeks to only a few hours. Also, as the company’s subscribers doubled, they only needed to add one new service representative.
The company’s CSRs maintain a rich, updated mix of resources for portal visitors through a knowledgebase. On the welcome page, an introductory video guides subscribers in how to use the support center. Players can search by keyword, browse a library of articles and how-to videos, or submit a ticket. At times, CSRs push out specific videos in response to ticket inquiries.
IGN Entertainment also offers a great example of a company that employed service best practices via automation and process rules. They were able to scale their service efforts to the growth of their game-selling service Direct2Drive, while avoiding what would have previously added, by their estimates, ten additional staff members.
That’s a huge cost savings, and, automated communications resulted in a more positive perception of their brand and gaming experience. The company has achieved self-service issue resolution at 92 percent, and 57 percent of all their logged tickets are satisfied with auto-responders.
Slick branding is still important — the “cool” factor remains crucial in the gaming industry — and, traditional and online marketing demand generation still play an important role. But, today’s gaming company looking for mass adoption needs to make sure customers walk away from an interaction satisfied and loyal to the game.
Every service interaction is an opportunity to add another member to your game evangelist army who will spread the good word on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and more. Fast, structured service enables a new kind of customer marketing that we are only beginning to see. Viewing service as a key component of your marketing strategy will lead to increased sales and revenue for you.
Tip 2: Individualize the Service Experience
Now that you’ve got some basic structure around your service interactions, optimize by providing a rich “service experience.” What does that mean in today’s world?
When it comes to technology, gamers get it. On a whole, they are technologically savvy. They walk around with the latest and greatest phones, and participate often — and loudly — in social media communities, blogs, and gaming forums. Gaming companies need to interact with gamers where they play and communicate. Once they do, gaming companies experience increased loyalty, improved retention and higher play rates, which increase player monetization opportunities.
When it comes to providing high-quality support, the timeline and manner is chosen by your players. Two-day email inquiry turnarounds and 9 to 5 support center hours don’t cut it, nor do canned email responses for every component of your support structure.
Customer service needs to occur instantly, dynamically, and through the multiple communication channels currently available to gaming customers.
Yet, however savvy your gamers are, they do not all have the same revenue potential. Break down your new multi-channel approach and set your service metrics by type of players. Ask yourself who is a VIP, a leader, or running a guild? Who has and should have a say on development?
For example, you might wish to provide live chat as an option for certain players, and offer different service options as a way to coax players into raising their subscription level, and consequently, generate additional revenue.
To enable this individualized service strategy, choose a service partner or an internal support solution that allows support to be conducted through multiple channels and enables rich and customizable experiences.
Take a look at Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) vendor models. They will keep costs down and require little up-front investment. This model also allows gaming companies to add more functionality and integrate with other systems like gaming operations as needed.
iWin opted for a SaaS model with its service solution because the company has no other IT costs and the SaaS model gave the company a chance to scale as it needed. It also meant that it could have home-based and international CSRs, which would keep costs down.
Just a word of caution, however: be sure that SaaS vendors can customize if required. Some solutions come packaged with set functionality and users wishing to combine additional features and applications need to look to third-party vendors. That’s a hidden cost which can rise unabated and provide a composite system that is difficult to use.
Tip 3: Make Sure Service Can Scale with Game Adoption
When games are in development, there are a lot of challenges — from meeting project milestones to setting a sales and marketing strategy that leads to quick and widespread adoption.
In particular, MMOs often present huge obstacles that need to be overcome to release a successful game. They are incredibly expensive to make — with the development time long and the investment huge. During this development process, gaming companies often put customer service and support plans on the back burner.
However, they do this to their own detriment.
When MMO adoption occurs and there is no service scalability plan in place, the service team begins to struggle to manage the rising number of inbound service requests. The result is lost customers, brand damage, and missed customer acquisition targets.
Sales and marketing scalability goals are crucial, but failing to recognize the impact service can have on marketing and sales is a big mistake. Gaming companies need to integrate service scalability plans into the whole development process.
Make sure you have a plan to grow service affordably. Adding headcount in the form of more CSRs does not equate to better service; it only means your company is shelling out more money.
If you are still running your service operations on email or a limited spreadsheet built in-house, then you have an opportunity to determine a new, automated real-time strategy that meets customer expectations and controls costs.
Pick an outsourcing partner or implement a customer service solution that can handle massive adoption and will scale quickly to meet your needs, without escalating headcount.
Tip 4: Keep them in the Game
For most gaming companies, engaging players and keeping them in the game is the chief objective of their sales efforts. The longer players stay in the game, the more likely they are to have a positive and rich experience, which results in positive reviews, which drives more new customers to play. Keeping players in-game is also going to increase monetization opportunities.
We know this, so, why then, do many games require the player to leave the game in order to interact with customer service? It seems counter-intuitive.
When setting up your service operations or retooling an existing solution, approach your support operations with the same mindset as you approach your monetization strategy: think about how long you can keep your players in the game.
Free games at iWin.com are offered in exchange for delivering targeted, relevant and compelling in-game advertising. For that reason, revenue depends on keeping gaming customers playing without interruption. The longer the players stay in the game, the more ads are delivered, and the more revenue the company generates.
There are solutions and service outsourcing partners that provide in-game support interaction, so your players can rapidly resolve issues without ever leaving the game. Look for solutions that offer support for in-game chat, knowledgebase access, and trouble-ticketing.
What’s more, look to in-game service solutions that can offer portals that are custom-branded just like your game, so there’s no disconnect in the gaming or branding experience.
Tip 5: To Grow your Player Pool, Put Service Where Your Players Are
The newness of social and mobile media channels is challenging every business in every industry. We’re in uncharted waters. Quite simply, gaming companies that figure out how to make the new channels work for them will thrive. Those that fail may not survive.
Brand management encompasses service today, so operationally, you should be able to consolidate all the input of support tickets, Facebook posts and Tweets into the same place for your agents, so you can respond, monitor and manage your brand through a service desk on the backend. This also makes your CSRs more productive.
I mentioned scalability before. Realize that today’s scalability means integrating growing service capabilities into multiple communication channels, such as web chat, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
Be sure you have an option for integrated IVR capabilities as well as access to easy-to-use knowledgebases that can be searched so players can service themselves. In addition, look for add-on or native community and forum management capabilities as well as support for the mobile channel.
Again, calling to mind examples of gaming companies with best practice service like IGN and Konami, it is possible to be in new channels while also controlling demand for costly one-to-one interactions.
Today, you can approach new media channels with great confidence, and pluck greater insights from your high-value customers, without fear of being overwhelmed by your total audience.
No one has all the answers, but one key to success is clear: approach new social media channels openly, and with a willingness to experiment. Do not make risk mitigation the chief objective. Some things will work, others will fail, but, over time, you will continually evolve and improve, and, in the end, emerge as a best practices player.
Get it right and you will build your brand and gather valuable feedback that enhances your games. Implement player feedback loops that combine and analyze information from service interactions, social network and community monitoring and filter it into your development process so you can bring to market better games and improve existing ones.
Tip 6: Designate an Owner and Define Policies around Communities and Social Media Networks
Even though new media channels touch every part of the organization, someone does need to be in charge. Whether it is PR, marketing, product management, or customer service, pick an owner. That way, someone is responsible and can help forge a cohesive strategy. One critical success factor, however, is that regardless of who owns your strategy, identify stakeholders across your organization and get their input. A successful strategy must be cross-operational and cohesive in order to be effective.
Also, be sure to establish clearly defined policies for communities and social media networks. In the gaming industry, there is much discussion about who owns the communities and forums. Part of the purpose of communities is to empower your players to empower themselves, but gaming companies cannot let communities be entirely unmoderated. The effect on player perception can be disastrous, and a message left without a response never results in anything good.
Once you’ve got a strategy, and no matter who is running it, be sure you can execute on service inside those communities you choose to engage with, and you’ll see higher retention rates, additional revenue and a gamer community that brings armies of new players to your game.
For certain, social media is here to stay. With its challenges also come a slew of unprecedented benefits for every industry, but especially the gaming industry. Among the challenges that gaming companies need to address is how to decipher, establish and execute on a social media strategy that cultivates the gamer relationship in ways that build loyalty, increase monetization and create more word of mouth referrals through social media platforms like Facebook.
Increasingly, gaming companies need to be laser-focused on providing a rich and dynamic customer service experience are able to meet those challenges, while keeping costs low. The key is to keep your players in the game and service them in the channels where they live — in the game and on social media platforms, as well as offering them communications through traditional channels like email, web, and phone.
Although multi-channel service approach may seem complicated, look to the tips laid out in this article, and best practice gaming companies like iWin and IGN Entertainment. These companies have figured out how to use their service operations to not only resolve issues, but foster a sense of customer loyalty while raising acquisition rates and keeping operational costs low.(source:gamasutra)